By Nathalie Sophie Wise- BA Social Anthropology and World Philosophy
A Studio Ghibli coming-of-age classic, the heartwarming and playful story of My Neighbour Totoro chronicles the adventures of two young sisters, Satsuki and Mei, as they move into a new and seemingly haunted countryside house, encountering a variety of enchanting creatures who emerge as new friends and join the sisters on their feat exploring their new town. The iconic tale, originally directed by the creative genius Hayao Miyazaki, is praised for its magical nature and lessons of kindness. Recently adapted into a stage version by the Royal Shakespeare Company, there was doubt, but buzzing anticipation nonetheless, surrounding the show’s ability to convey the dramatic but whimsical spirit of the original 1988 film. However, I can assure you this adaption of a classic was a reminder of the happiness and pure captivation that the medium of theatre has the ability to deliver, as it marvellously embodies the inspiring warmth that My Neighbour Totoro is known and loved for.
“This adaption of a classic was a reminder of the happiness and pure captivation that the medium of theatre has the ability to deliver, as it marvellously embodies the inspiring warmth that ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ is known and loved for.”
Written by Tom-Morton Smith, who, alongside the original composer Joe Hisaishi and set designer Tom Pye, transform the Barbican’s theatre hall through an extremely intricate revolving set design that perfectly captures the marvellous and otherworldly nature of the original film. The stage seamlessly used hidden tracks throughout the performance, which did not distract from the story, but rather makes one feel as if you are moving alongside it, totally immersing the audience into the setting that was being created right before their eyes. Additionally, the scenes are accompanied by a beautiful musical score performed by a live orchestra, completed with the exquisite voice of Ai Ninomiya, which was a key element to the creation of the perfect ambience present within the performance.
Furthermore and perhaps most notably, the highly intelligent use of puppets, and the mastery of the puppeteers on stage, was a key aspect of the show. Despite the clear presence of the puppeteers on stage, due to the highly innovative approach to creating very clear-cut characters out of each puppet, whether it be the mischievous soot spirits or the epic title bearing Totoro, the sense of wonder that is created on stage through these whimsical characters is undeniably impressive, as their movements seem far from robotic, but completely fluid. The puppets brought another layer of magic to the show, as well as several smiles on the audience’s faces.
Overall, My Neighbour Totoro (Barbican Theatre) presents a beautiful story for both children and adults to enjoy together. The show manages to take many of the beautifully imaginative elements of the original film while also conveying a great deal of immense talent from not only the cast, who perfectly exhibit a great deal of chemistry and covey a youthfulness that My Neighbour Totoro embodies, but the array of highly thought-out components of what I can only call a theatrical masterpiece.
Photo Caption: My Neighbour Totoro – Key Art (Landscape) (Credit: My Neighbour Totoro © Studio Ghibli. Logo by Toshio Suzuki. Concept and Design by Dewynters. © RSC and Nippon TV).